A Book for These Turbulent Times

It’s been awhile, but it seems only natural to recommend a good book to help us understand these turbulent times. If you have not read it,”White Man‘s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, 1894-1909″ by Kimberly Harper explores the complex racial dynamics of the early twentieth century Ozarks. If you are like us, you might have grown up in Southwest Missouri during a time when there were few, if any, people of color in your community and wondered why. Well, this is why. One reader called it the Ozarks version of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

You can order a copy at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/White-Mans-Heaven-Expulsion-1894-1909/dp/1557289840

Or visit the University of Arkansas Press’ site: https://www.uapress.com/product/white-mans-heaven/

More on the Early Joplin Black Community

In 1915, Theodore Baughman, a correspondent with the African-American newspaper Topeka Plaindealer, wrote a brief, but detailed account of Joplin’s black community. Baughman observed that although there were less than a thousand African-Americans in Joplin, there were four black churches, and a number of fraternal organizations, though, he noted, none of them had their own meeting hall.

Baughman disappointedly observed that the black community in Joplin was not “given very much to commercialism.” Still, in the paragraphs that followed, he wrote about a few entrepreneurial souls who sought to make a

P. Fred Romare, the “harness king” of Joplin, was born December 8, 1858 (according to a 1920 passport application) or in 1860 (according to his Missouri death certificate), in Chester, South Carolina.* His father, Paul Romare, was a native of Sweden who worked as a bank clerk in Chester. It was there that he fathered Fred with an African-American woman named Esther. When the Civil War broke out, Paul Romare enlisted in the Confederate Army, and served the duration of the war. After the war ended, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, married a white woman, and eventually became the president of the Atlanta National Bank. He left his mulatto son, P. Fred Romare, behind in South Carolina.

Between 1880 and 1910, P. Fred Romare and his wife Rosa moved to Joplin, Missouri, from South Carolina for reasons still unknown. As a youth, he worked as a carriage maker, and he continued this trade in Joplin. Romare became well known for his wide selection of carriages, buggies, and harnesses. He housed his business in a handsome two story brick building located at 818 Main Street and employed three white men as harness makers. Romare lived at 1826 Pearl until his death on October 20, 1934.

Baughman also called on the Reverend J.N. Brownlee at his real estate office at 521 ½ Virginia Avenue. Brownlee was fortunate to still be alive after he became embroiled in a scandal in 1912 that raised the ire of Joplin’s white community, and led to threats of lynching. According to one newspaper account, young white girls allegedly would meet at Brownlee’s office to drink brandy, beer, and wine. One young white woman, Pearl Nugent, a seventeen-year-old stenographer employed by Brownlee, was found dead in Brownlee’s office. The coroner’s jury ruled she committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid.

Fortunately for Brownlee, attorney John Castillo produced letters that showed Nugent had allegedly been assaulted by a married white man named Walter Bishop from Chitwood, and that she may have committed suicide as a result. The coroner’s jury, in the course of its investigation of Nugent’s death, raised questions about Brownlee’s habit of employing young white women in his office, his lewd treatment of his employees, and his alleged attempt to blackmail the man accused of assaulting Pearl Nugent. Scared of a repeat of the events of 1903, when Thomas Gilyard was lynched in downtown Joplin, many black residents began leaving the city, though one paper noted it was mainly the “shiftless class” that left. The paper added, “No mob plays will be tolerated by the police, however, and the blacks will be protected if there is any hint of uprising.” Joplin Police Chief Joseph Myers warned it was against the law to incite mob violence and that he would not hesitate to stop talk of lynching Brownlee with force.

In an indication of the limited opportunity for black men in Joplin at the time, many of Baughman’s “success” stories were men who worked as janitors at Joplin’s leading businesses. Benjamin Davis worked at Aldridge’s, Arthur Young and Frank Caldwell both worked as janitors at Miner’s Bank, and Joseph Stover was the head janitor at the Keystone Hotel. Although today many may not think that working as a postal carrier a prestigious job, Baughman considered it one for African-American men during this time and N.T. Green, one such gentleman, Baughman wrote, “is one of Uncle Sam’s trusty men.” There were also enough African-Americans in Joplin to keep Dr. J.T. Williams busy after he graduated in 1908 from Meharry Medical College, a historically black medical school in Tennessee.

The Turf Bar, which one will find mentioned in the pages of the Joplin newspapers, was possibly owned by George Lindsay. The Turf was located at 123 Main Street and served Budweiser, Middle West, and Falstaff beer. In 1914, under a different owner, it was considered one of the finest bars in Joplin. J.W. Brown’s People’s Café was located just down the way at 109 Main Street

While turn of the century Joplin was a bustling growing city, it was also a city that limited the many opportunities available to the color of one’s skin.  Joplin’s early African-American residents none the less persevered to the best of their abilities to build a life for themselves and their families in Southwest Missouri.

Afternote:
The African-American artist, Romare Bearden, was named after P. Fred Romare, who was a friend of his great-grandparents. He stated in an oral history that the name was pronounced, “ROAM-a-ree.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Joplin’s early Chinese community, although small, was tenacious despite being frequent targets of crime and racism. On a Saturday night in late January, 1916, a free-for-all erupted at the Low Shanghai restaurant after a patron refused to pay for his dinner. When confronted by Jung Toy, the owner of the restaurant, the man put on a pair of brass knuckles and hit Toy. Members of the Chinese wait staff rushed to the assistance of Toy which then induced a number of other diners to join the fray. Brass knuckles, a knife, and several chairs were used in the ensuing melee. Sixty year old Jung Ginn, who was also known as John Lee, was seriously injured when someone hit him over the right eye with a pair of brass knuckles. The attackers fled the restaurant, but G.H. Ritter, Thomas Hildreth, and Harvey B. Young were arrested a short time later.

Jung Toy had immigrated from Canton, China, possibly in 1882, and likely named his restaurant after the region’s greatest city. The attack did not dissuade Jung Toy from remaining in the restaurant business. A glance at the 1920 census reveals that Jung Toy remained in the business at least four more years. However, by 1930, Jung Toy’s life had taken a turn for the worse. If the same Jung Toy, he reappears in the census in Rexford, Montana, a widower (he had been married in Joplin) and reduced to a simple cook at a railroad restaurant.

Have a Great Fourth of July!

The Fourth of July was as popular a holiday in Joplin in the past as it is today. The same emphasis on safety with fireworks continues today, though, perhaps not so much the worry on loaded firearms. A local paper illustrated the dangers of firecrackers, be it from boys throwing them at passersby in the street for laughs to other boys using the explosives as potential tools in arguments. One such event occurred as written:

“Three negro boys were walking down Fourth street this morning with their pockets bulging with fire crackers. As they passed the Miners Bank building two young men, prominent in business circles, began to “kid” the boys about the Jeffries-Johnson fight. The negroes became “riled” and in a moment were willing to take their contemporaries on. In the meantime, one of the negroes, who gave his name as Fred Jackson, stepped behind a telephone post and lit a big fire cracker. It exploded in his hand and the boy’s cries drowned the arguments. In an instant the miniature race war ceased. The young men grabbed the negro and carried him to a drug store, where he was given medical aid. the negroes apologized for their quarrel and the white boys “Set ’em” up for the sodas.”

Guest Piece: Joplin’s Black History – Leslie Simpson

The history of Joplin from the point of view of its black population has been difficult to trace. People are probably aware that Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, but his family left when he was still an infant. There was also the infamous lynching episode and subsequent flight of black citizens in 1903. But what about those who stayed, worked, raised their children, and died in Joplin? What were their lives like?

The earliest black inhabitants of southwest Missouri were, obviously, slaves belonging to the first white settlers. The 1850 slave schedule for Jasper County listed 212 slaves, including 3 belonging to John C. Cox, who later established the town of Joplin. There were 166 slaveholders registered in the county in 1861. Slaves were itemized on county probate records and deed transfers as well. It is heart-rending to read some of these documents. For instance, there is the account of an entire family (Sarah, Mary, Henry, Lewis, Susan, and Matilda) being sold for $1 and of three “copper-colored slaves” given to Arabella Sanders by her mother Margaret as a gift.

What happened to these people after they were freed? How did they earn a living? The 1870 census reveals the few occupations that were available to them—mill work, farm labor, and housekeeping. The mining boom, which put Joplin on the map in 1872, gave the freed slaves many more options. The 1880 census indicates that they held jobs in hotels, butcher shops, saloons, laundries, livery stables, in addition to doing farm and domestic work. They also worked in the mines. In fact, some were even mine owners! The Black Seven mine was owned by seven black men.

Joplin’s population grew from 9,943 in 1890 to 26,023 in 1900. Business was booming, and there was work for all. The 1900 census reveals an interesting trend. In addition to the previously noted occupations held by blacks, there were also more skilled professions listed—teacher, preacher, physician, barber, stone mason, plasterer, coachman, ice man, carpenter, taxi driver, grocer, upholsterer, and woolen mill, to name a few. But this trend did not last, probably due to the Great Depression and to the end of the mining era. In the 1937 Negro City and County Directory the majority of Joplin’s black citizenry were porters, domestic workers, and janitors. The only black-owned businesses were a dry cleaner, shoe shine parlor, barber shop, shoe repair shop, and a boarding house.

Speaking of 1937, the introduction to the Joplin city directory for that year, written by the Chamber of Commerce, enthuses that “The population is almost entirely white and almost entirely composed of intelligent, native stock, thereby eliminating the chief source of recurrent labor troubles.”

These are merely observations based upon a few historic documents. The black history of Joplin has yet to be written.

Leslie Simpson, an expert on Joplin history and architecture, is the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, located within the Joplin Public Library. She is the author of From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture. and Joplin: A Postcard History.

Hi-Ki, Joplin’s “Wild Man”

W.H. Evans

Over the years Joplin saw its share of curiosities. In her book, Tales from Joplin, Evelyn Milligan Jones recounted the story of the “Man Horse.” According to Jones, the Man Horse was an individual who believed he was a horse and could often be seen “charging down the street pulling his own buggy. He had his boots shod with horseshoes, and sometimes ate hay from the back of his wagon, or grass at the roadside.”

Just as a real horse would, the Man Horse would “shy at a blowing piece of paper and run wild for a few blocks.” Regrettably, Jones has little else to say about Man Horse, nor did she divulge his real name. Man Horse was only one of a handful of characters to roam the streets of Joplin.

Another colorful character that Jones recounted was “Nigger” Evans. Joplin composer Percy Weinrich remembered him as the “big man who used to roam the alleys and byways of Joplin in his trash wagon.” Mothers would tell their children, “If you don’t behave, Nigger Evans will get you!” Evans inspired such fear that the Joplin Elks “dressed him up in a leopard suit, and provided him with a whole haunch of meat which he flourished like a club, pausing only to gnaw at the raw meat now and then as he marched along. Children who saw this had wilder nightmares than TV can inspire.”

But there was more to “Nigger” Evans than just a crude racial caricature. His real name was W.H. Evans and he made his living in Joplin as a “city scavenger.” As he made his way through the streets of Joplin, Evans stood out due to his extreme size: He was six feet eight inches tall, weighed 350 pounds, and wore a size 15 shoe.

A native of Cairo, Illinois, Evans was born to slave parents. According to Evans, his father “stole his mother from Alabama and then ran off to sea.” As soon as he was grown, Evans joined the Ninth United States Cavalry, where he served for five years. He later worked as a railroad brakeman in Texas. It was during this time in his life that he killed a fellow African American with his fists, ending his ambition to become a prizefighter. Despite his past, Evans found employment with the Barnum and Wallace circuses as “Hi-Ki the Wild Man.”

Barnum circus barkers would cry out to curious crowds:

“Hi-Ki, the flesh-eating wild man. Species of Cuban negro. Captured forty-two miles south of Manila by a group of American soldiers. Cannot understand a word of English. The only one in captivity.” For those brave enough to view “Hi-Ki” they entered a tent and saw Evans seated in a cage chewing on a piece of raw beefsteak handed to him through the bars with a pitchfork.

When asked about his days in the circus, Evans opined, “Barnum was a little off when he said the American people like to be humbugged. It is not because they want to be humbugged that makes them pay out their money, but it is their desire to learn and see something they never saw before. The American people ain’t afraid to invest in anything if it’s new.”

After he left the circus, Evans settled in Joplin where he owned “several thousand dollars’ worth of property besides a farm of 120 acres in Texas and town lots in Palestine and Bremond.” In Joplin he was known as a “wonder of the people of his home town and the ‘bogy-man’ of the little children.”

Evans was enough of a local fixture in Joplin that in 1896, his name was put before the Republican county convention as candidate for coroner, but his name was withdrawn from voting, and he left the convention hall in disgust.

Evans claimed, “They hadn’t more’n got half way through voting when some Republican gets up and says that if they elect me as coroner and the sheriff dies, they’d have a nigger sheriff. Then he went on and talked about what he called ‘wisdom.’ and then they quit voting. Then I told them what I thought about the Republicans. There wasn’t no money in the job then anyway, just empty honors.” Evans later joined the Democratic Party.

He explained to a reporter, “If old Abraham Lincoln could come back to this country again he would say the same thing about the Republicans and would run them all out. The Republicans just use the negro as a tool to be held up and hammered and they are doing the negroes in the south more harm now than anybody else by arraying them against the best friends they’ve got down there. No, sir, I’m a Democrat, and I expect to help fight for the Democrats, even if I did go down to defeat twice with [William Jennings] Bryan.”

Evans believed “everybody ought to take part in politics. If a man is honest and his character unimpeached, he should have consideration. But it’s all a manipulating scheme, and the feller that gets elected goes off with the cream.”

At the time Evans made his statement, Democrats were considered the party of “wets,” which is to say those who were against prohibition. Curiously he declared:

“But some of these white folks around here ain’t much fitting to govern themselves. I has always been an anti-prohibitionist, though I never drank nor used tobacco, except I drank a little whisky for medicinal purposes but that don’t do much good. But I’m going to vote for the prohibitionists this time. The other night I saw thirty-six men with buckets over their shoulders drinking beer in a saloon at one time. Then they do something and blame the other feller for it. Whisky in, wit out. I wouldn’t say a word if they was the only ones hurt, but more of them fellers had wives and children at home. Yes, I’m going to vote for the prohibitionists this year.”

For a man who wore a leopard suit, Evans viewed the world with a far more serious perspective than many whites may have assumed and refused to acquiesce to the image of a mere wild man.

The Joplin Advance

Over the years, Joplin was home to many newspapers: The Advance, the Evening Times, the Free Press, the Globe, the News-Herald, the Labor Record, the Missouri Trade Unionist, the Morning Tribune, the Daily News, the Southwestern, and the State Line-Herald. These are just the ones that survived for posterity. There were other papers published in Joplin that, due to neglect, the ravages of time, and lack of interest, did not survive. Editors and owners may have thrown the bound volumes in the rubbish bin, fires may have destroyed them, or they simply crumbled away over time, printed on poor quality paper. There are, for example, no known surviving copies of the Joplin American, the paper that Thomas Hart Benton worked for when he lived in Joplin. There were also many local papers, such as the intriguingly named Carterville Rocket, that did not survive, either.

Of the papers that did survive and are captured for all time on microfilm, only one Joplin paper represented the interests of the city’s African-American population, the Joplin Advance. The Kansas State Historical Society collected and preserved the sole surviving issue of the Advance, allowing us a very limited look at the sole African-American newspaper in Joplin.

The first issue of the Joplin Advance was published on Friday, May 10, 1895. It was four pages in length. The first page bore the following greeting:

“Salutatory:

We have come among you to stay and assume a part of the responsibilities of the citizens of Joplin and vicinity. We will say that we have to profess to make except to do all the good we can and the least harm possible, advocate nothing but [missing word] Republican principles, for the promotion of the general welfare of the Negro race and his friends.

In order for the colored people of Joplin and the surrounding towns to maintain and keep the ADVANCE from going to the walls, it is necessary for them to read every advertisement of the merchants very carefully and patronize only those. The fact is, that no business man wants to advertise in any paper unless he expects to be benefited thereby. The advertisements [sic] is the back bone of a newspaper and, unless a merchant is benefited by advertising in a colored paper, as a matter of fact, he will not advertise. We regret to say, that our people cannot afford to maintain their press, and if we expect to have a newspaper in our midst, we must patronize the merchants who advertise in, and extend a friendly hand to our enterprizes [sic].

In looking over the broad field in this county with an eye singular to the prosperity of our people, we can see a great chance for an improvement, political, socially, and otherwise, and we firmly believe that, if we can bring about the state of things by the publication of a first class patriotic Negro newspaper, dedicated to the purpose of bringing the two races closer together, linking the Negro race in a better union, concentrate our forces, morally, socially, politically, intellectually, and otherwise, we will accomplish a great good, especially among the more ignorant whites as well as the blacks, if they will only read our paper.

W.L. Yancey.”

The rest of the paper was what we would consider today to be AP wire reports, save for one page which mentioned local events, and had a few paid ads for Joplin businesses such as Mack the Tailor, Jones Confectionary, and the Golden Eagle Clothing House. Notably, the ad for Jones Confectionary stated, “Dealer in Candies, all kinds of Fruit, Nuts, and Soft Drinks. It is the only place where colored people can be accommodated to an Ice Cream Parlor. 519 Main Street.” [Emphasis added]

African-Americans in Joplin could find out when services were being held at the M.E. church, the A.M.E. church, and St. John’s Baptist church. Those interested in fraternal organizations could find meeting information for the Masonic Myrtle Lodge No. 149, the Guiding Star Court, and the Knights of Pythias Lodge No. 11.

Most importantly, though, due to segregation, blacks were often at a loss with regard to knowing which businesses they could and could not patronize. The Advance pointed out which businesses catered to African-American clientele, and although we cannot be sure, would surmise that most of the businesses they recommended were owned by fellow African-Americans.

James Mason, driver of general job wagon no. 57, was recommended for one’s moving and delivery needs and one could visit any of three barber shops for a shave: the I.X.L. Shaving Parlor [516 Main Street], the Imperial Shaving Parlor [320 Main Street], and G.W. Potter’s [106 Main Street]. Laundresses Miss Mary Edwards [First Street], Mrs. Graton [620 Joplin Street] Miss Eva Door specialized in laundried collars, cuffs, and shirts. Should you want a new dress, Mrs. Brisco McLerore could be found at 120 Pearl Street. For boarding, Mrs. Lou Barnett offered lodging on Seventh Street “between Kentucky on Penn. Ave.”

The man behind the paper was African-American W.L. Yancey. In addition to being the editor and owner of the Advance, he was also an attorney. In his first “salutatory” message to readers, Yancey asked his fellow African-Americans to support the paper, lest it fail. He knew that whites would not subscribe to his paper; instead, they would read the “white” papers in Joplin. He also knew that advertising was crucial to the newspaper’s success. But advertising in a black newspaper, particularly for white businesses in a city with a small black community, was not advantageous or attractive. Even neighboring Springfield, with a sizable black population, could not sustain its own African-American newspaper.

Curiously, the 1895 Kansas State census lists William L. Yancey and his wife Clara as living in Pittsburg, Kansas. The census itself was taken in March, 1895, just two months before the Advance was first published. It also explains why there is a small smattering of Pittsburg, Kansas, news on the front page. Yancey may have been trying to bridge the gap between the black communities in Joplin and Pittsburg with his paper. He listed his occupation as “newspaperman” while wife Clara was a “housekeeper.” They lived in the midst of white families.

The 1900 Federal census tells us that William L. Yancey lived in Joplin [south of Broadway on Central Avenue] at that time. His occupation was listed as attorney and his wife, Clara, had “printer” as her occupation. Were they still publishing the Advance? Or did Clara just work as a printer? Because only one single issue of the Advance survived, we cannot be sure how long the paper lasted. If you check the city directory, however, Yancey is not listed which shows that one must always check every source available. Still, we are left with questions: Where did Yancey attend law school? There were African-American lawyers in Springfield who attended Howard University. Did Yancey go to Howard? Why did he move to Joplin?

Yancey did not remain in Joplin. Perhaps frustrated by the lack of opportunity, he moved on, and eventually divorced Clara. She later died in 1963 in Michigan.

Sometimes searching the census can be a challenge, as with Yancey and the 1910 census. He may or may not appear in the 1910 Federal census for Yakima, Washington. If it is him, the census taker wrote down the wrong middle initial and identified him as a “white” “lawyer.” Yancey was listed in previous censuses as either black or mulatto. Is it possible he tried to pass for white? Or is he just hiding out in the census and this is a different William Yancey? Census takers could and would make mistakes.

At any rate, we do know that by 1920, he appears to have remarried, and settled in Yakima, Washington. Fifty-one years old, both Yancey and his wife were working as “janitors” in a “business building.” In 1930, he is missing from the census, but his wife Hannah is listed as divorced.  Yancey may have passed away, or may have simply eluded the census taker where he lived.

His story is illustrative of the challenges African-Americans faced in American society in the time between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. Yancey, once an attorney and newspaper editor, spent his later years working as a janitor. Were it not for the Kansas State Historical Society preserving the single surviving issue of his paper, we would have never known his story, nor the fact that once upon a time Joplin had its own African-American newspaper.

If you ever come across an old Missouri newspaper, you may want to call the State Historical Society in Columbia and ask if they have it. If not, by allowing them to microfilm the paper, you could help preserve Missouri’s history. Who knows – maybe someone has a copy of the Joplin American featuring one of Thomas Hart Benton’s cartoons waiting to be found!

105th Anniversary of Springfield’s “Easter Offering”

Editorial Cartoon from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a statue of freedom was placed at the top of Gottfried Tower where the three men were lynched.


One hundred and five years ago, on the night before Easter, a mob in Springfield, Missouri broke into the Greene County jail, carried three prisoners to the city square, and lynched them for the alleged assault of a white woman. The murder of the three men quickly became known as the “Easter Offering.” The lynchings made the front page of newspapers across the nation and faded only with news of a terrible earthquake which leveled the west coast city of San Francisco. Below is an excerpt from Kimberly Harper’s White Man’s Heaven, which in addition to covering the Joplin lynching of Thomas Gilyard, tells the story of the Easter Offering.

The following takes place after two men had already been lynched, Horace Duncan and Fred Coker.

“Resistance was nonexistent at the jail. Sheriff Horner and his men, absent since Duncan and Coker were seized, were nowhere to be found. Members of the mob strolled through the door of the jail unopposed. Men, armed with hammers, chisels, and other tools, walked through holding cells looking for Bus Cain and Will Allen. Bus Cain, however, was nowhere to be found. Apparently his cell was damaged during the first assault on the jail and Cain was able to slip away without being noticed. Cain, in his eagerness to escape, left Will Allen behind. When Cain’s absence was discovered by the mob, a litany of curses filled the air. Infuriated by his escape, men began to shout, “Take any negro and hang him!”

Allen, trapped in his cell, watched from his cot as a rough assortment of men began to coolly and methodically remove the lock from the cell door. Despite the cool night air, the men were drenched in sweat from their exertion. As men tired, they were relieved by fresh replacements. After almost two hours, sledgehammers were brought forth, and men began to steadily pound at the cell door with as much force as they could muster in the middle of the night. Just before two o’clock in the morning, the door to the cell was torn open, leaving nothing between Allen and his attackers. The emptiness between the men was momentary, as the mob rushed forward and seized the man who had been tortured by hours of violent screams and the prospect of the inevitable fate that awaited him.

Allen was blinded as a lantern was shoved in his face, as the mob, with a skewed sense of justice, sought to ensure they had the right man. Unwilling to meekly accept his fate, the 5’5″ tall Allen wrested himself free from the hands of his attackers, and seized a nearby wooden club. He ferociously lashed out at the men around him, but “blows rained on his face and body like hail from a score of arms, and he was quickly subdued.” Allen’s bold attempt to defend himself enraged the mob. While curses and clubs flew freely at Allen’s obstinance, his hands were jerked forward and tightly bound together before he was dragged out of the jail. Once outside the jail’s battered brick walls, Allen insisted on walking, rather than be carried by the mob.

Screams and yells eerily echoed through the air as men fired their pistols in anticipation of a third lynching. In the midst of the chaos, Will Allen walked steadily forward with his head held high, determined not to show fear. The mob guided Allen toward the campus of Drury College where only months before he, together with Bus Cain, allegedly murdered O. P. Ruark. Hoarse voices cried out, “Hang him where he killed old man Ruark!”

Several Drury students who were in the crowd, fearful that a lynching on Drury’s campus would sully the college’s reputation, hurriedly held an impromptu meeting. It was decided that they would try to head off the mob and quickly spread out through the crowd yelling, “Take him to the square! Hang him with the other two! Take him back so the others can see!” The plan worked as the mob suddenly shifted direction and with one voice bellowed, “To the square!”

The city square with Gottfried tower in the forefront. Note the Statue of Freedom at the top of the tower. Beneath her, Will Allen, Horace Duncan and Fred Coker were lynched.

As the mob streamed toward the scene of Coker’s and Duncan’s grisly end, “Men talked to themselves and each other, swore fluently at nothing at all, and shouted all sorts of bloodcurdling things into the air without regard of their significance. Grown men shrieked and howled like demons, shouting to the leaders to hang the negro, to burn him.” It was on the corner of the square, as the howling processional began to arrive that Hollet H. Snow spotted Chief John McNutt and Officers John Wimberly, Henry Waddle, A. R. Sampey, E. T. W. Trantham, and Martin Keener, “laughing and talking and making no effort to stop the mob.” As Allen and the mob approached the square, it was shrouded in darkness, save for the harsh light that came from the bonfire built over the bodies of Fred Coker and Horace Duncan.

As Gottfried Tower loomed before him, Allen trembled almost imperceptibly, but regained his composure. He walked unaided up the steps that led to the tower’s bandstand. In front of Allen was a sea of faces, dimly illuminated by the flames of the bonfire, tense with anticipation. Those who stood on the fringes of the mob were shrouded in darkness. Allen, as he stood on the tower’s bandstand, may have recognized familiar faces. If he did, he did not cry out for help. Instead, he stood silently as an unknown man shoved a lantern into his face for those below, which caused the mob to call out, “Hang him!”

The man motioned for silence and then spoke, “Ladies and gentle – men, here before you is Will Allen, the man who cruelly murdered old man Ruark on the corner of Benton Avenue and Center Street. What will you do with him?” Over a thousand voices thundered in unison, “HANG HIM!” The man turned to Allen and asked, “Are you Will Allen?” Allen replied, “I am.” The unknown man then asked Allen if he had anything to say. Allen looked out at the crowd, straightened, and said, “Only that I did not kill Ruark.” Several men from the crowd howled, “Make him tell who did!” Allen, his hands still bound, declared, “Bus Cain killed Ruark. I had nothing to do with it.” The mob, unsatisfied with his answer, roared, “HANG HIM!”

Source: Reprinted with permission from the author, White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks by Kimberly Harper.

One African American Family’s History in Southwest Missouri

One of our readers sent in a story from the Springfield News-Leader regarding the legacy of race, slavery, and family in Missouri. Although the story does not feature anyone from the Joplin area, the story of Moses Berry and Thulani Davis is one that undoubtedly echoes the lives of some of Joplin’s residents. Unsurprisingly, African American history in Jasper County, Missouri, has long been overlooked by local and academic authors. With the exception of White Man’s Heaven, by Kimberly Harper, which recounts the 1903 lynching of Thomas Gilyard in Joplin and Lori Bogle’s Missouri Historical Review article, “Desegregation in a Border State: The Example of Joplin, Missouri,” little has been published. What stories are waiting to be uncovered in Joplin?

No. 52

No. 52 often visited his friends who worked in the mines.

“No other Chinaman in Joplin has ever enjoyed the distinction of being the mixer that No. 52 was,” the Joplin News Herald remarked, recalling the life of one of the city’s few Chinese residents.

Little is known about “No. 52.” According to an article in the News-Herald, “No. 52” was the nickname of a Chinese immigrant named “Sam Wung, or something of a similar sound.” He was born the son of a fish vendor in Hong Kong. After he fell in love with the daughter of a well-to-do Hong Kong merchant, Sam sought to prove himself worthy of her love. Despite his best efforts, Sam failed to acquire the wealth he sought. So he boarded a ship for the United States, arriving in Louisiana, and found work at a cotton plantation.

Sam found himself working in cotton fields alongside African-Americans. It was also in Louisiana there that he obtained the nickname “No. 52.” “When payday came he received his envelope marked 52. And the title stuck with him.” A man named C.B. Oats met Sam in Louisiana and brought him to Joplin to find work in the mines. When a miner asked, “What’s the Chink’s name?” Oats replied, “They call him No. 52.” The name stuck.

Sam spoke wistfully of the girl he left behind in Hong Kong, but declared he could not return because a group of white men had cut off his queue while in Louisiana. Chinese men were required to wear their hair in a queue [pigtail] in deference to the emperor. If a Chinese citizen disobeyed this order, it was considered treason, and the penalty for disobedience was death. Fearful he would be executed if he returned to Hong Kong, Sam hoped to save up enough money to send for his beloved.

He found work in the mine of Monroe Clark and John F. Wise located on West Third Street just south of the Joplin Overall Factory near Byers Avenue. According to the News-Herald, Sam was the only Chinese immigrant to work in Joplin’s mines. It was explained that “Unlike his fellow yellow skinned brethren who contented themselves with cleaning dirty clothes and eating rice three times a day, No. 52 sought employment with white men, and despite his nationality he became a favorite.”

For “a number of years he labored with white men. Industrious, good natured, and honest, he won for himself an esteem that is seldom granted to Chinamen.” Impressed with Sam and his rapport with miners, John F. Wise offered him a position as a clerk in his grocery store, which Sam accepted. But even though he worked behind a counter, Sam would leave work in the evening to go to the mine and “spend many hours with the boys underground, chatting and telling stories.”

It was on one of these occasions that Sam stepped onto a tub to be lowered into the mine when tragedy struck. As the tub descended, the “can dropped suddenly a distance of fifteen feet, then stopped.” A cable had slipped on the whim [a whim was a large windlass]. Sam was jerked out of the tub and was “dashed to death” on the floor of the mine one hundred and thirty feet below. His broken body was retrieved and laid to rest in Fairview Cemetery. Sam’s grave was marked with a simple stone that read, “No. 52.”

His death brought sorrow to “hundreds of hearts for No. 52 was a popular Chinaman and he numbered his friends by his acquaintances.”

Source: Joplin News Herald